The whole Accelerator programme was held in a “start-up” context, i.e. almost everyone there was either in the throes of starting up, had just started, or had very recently started up and could offer the benefit of some hindsight.

In another context, everyone on the programme wanted to “scale” their business.

The term “to scale” means “to identify those parts of the business that can be reproduced at a very rapid rate, without generating increased costs” This pretty much describes how Physio First, with the University of Brighton, have designed our Data for Impact (DfI) and MSK Quality Assured Practitioner (QAP) schemes i.e. the cost of running them will not increase with the numbers who join DfI and / or who meet our QAP benchmark.

All participants in the UnFound Accelerator programme represented co-ops, while many of the facilitators and guest speakers represented commercial platforms. For now however, my reflections here are not really on lessons learned about co-ops (that will come later) but upon what I learned about our 2018 and beyond marketplace. The one we all live in but may not have noticed.

Platform businesses

The expression “platform business” describes an interface between “user producers” and “user consumers”. A “platform business” does not supply a product or service itself, but instead links user producers with user customers.

A tip – we have got to get used to this new language of “users” no matter how grating. It is very much the language of the current and future marketplace.

“Platform businesses” have existed for thousands of years, i.e. a medieval marketplace was the platform that brought the local population together to buy and sell their wares. Today’s out of town shopping centres are platform businesses too!

Referenced throughout the Accelerator Programme were examples of current day platform businesses including Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, Google and Just Eat. Very clever, very innovative, very rich and the goal of every super acute brain in Silicon Valley. But to think that a platform business is just about clever software, is to completely misunderstand it. The other essential component is the ability to create a community that includes loyal customer users.

Creating a community of loyal customer users

The whole aspect of creating a community of loyal customer users can be seen as a “black art” but in fact it is the appliance of science. The Accelerator programme impressed on us all that intuition is for the birds and is positively to be avoided if one’s attempt at a platform startup is to get off the ground. Creating a community is all about data and evidence, which again corresponds both with our Physio First DfI and MSK QAP schemes, and with what Pam and I learned at the 2018 Private Healthcare Summit. Note to Shannon – Can this be a link to the article in the July core please?

 “All stakeholders must put the customer first and you do this through collecting and understanding data, establishing the evidence and ruling out opinion. If you do not buy into this logic, don’t bother!” Helen Watson, Senior Strategist, Ogilvy Healthworld, The Private Healthcare Summit June 2018. See here

Intuition is necessary in the first place as every business starts with an idea, but we need to understand that any idea must be tested in exactly the same way we were taught at school when testing a hypothesis in our science experiments.

The advice we received on the programme on creating a community is that it has to be authentic, it requires masses of resource to both start and maintain; resource mostly in the form of the time and energy (and thus money) spent:

  • scientifically working out “value” that user producers and user customers can efficiently generate as part of this community to serve this community and in
  • communicating in order to keep everyone informed and engaged

and thus motivated enough to stay in it, AND persuade customer producers to recruit their families, friends and colleagues to it.

The Story

Another big lesson from the Accelerator Programme was the need for the platform business to have a story i.e. “a strategic narrative”.

Deciding upon the story, is a matter of following a number of very clear evidence-based steps. There are a number of templates for the process, but one articulates the steps as:

  1. Describe the situation – describe the clear shift in the world that creates the need for your service (product) for your user customers, i.e. the urgency
  2. Describe the problem – why and how this could be bad for your audience i.e. the stakes
  3. Provide a glipse of what promised land you could take the audience to, i.e. the what if?
  4. Describe the means – the specific practical ways of how to do it
  5. Provide the proof – the evidence you have that your means works, i.e. the why you?

Included in this is a lot of detail on what to leave out, as much as what to keep in, but the outcome must be authentic, emotionally compelling, evidence-based and meaningful enough to capture and keep the attention of all users AND potential investors.

In The Physio Co-op’s case, a strategic narrative story is needed that helps to create and then bind a community of user customers (patients), user producers (private physio clinics) and investors. The outcome? A powerful force within the marketplace, and indeed within society that requires consistent hard work to maintain and evolve, but that is very much the future of business.

Add to this the fact that no-one knows, despite the obvious examples of Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, Google and Just Eat, the precise formulae for successful community building, and then consider GiffGaff.

For those not already aware, GiffGaff is a mobile phone network that promotes itself as “run by its members“. Started in 2009, it has acquired the mystique of being its own community. It doesn’t have a call-centre, instead customer queries are answered by fellow user customers, all of which adds to its kudos of being “the people’s” mobile network and enables it to keep its costs down.

However, it turns out that GiffGaff is not “of the people”; it was a radical experiment in community building by its owners, the conglomerate O2 network provider

Lessons in marketplace

The lesson learned about the marketplace that we all live in as suppliers and as customers, is that platform businesses are here to stay and, as far as I can fathom, are set to only become more ubiquitous. It will be a case of “if you can’t beat them join them”.

One of our Physio First members recently told me how she had been berated at the mere mention of Uber to her taxi driver. She had been shocked at his reaction! But there is a similarity in his response when you talk to a Physio First member about commercial intermediaries. Pretend we live in a world where commercial intermediaries are the only game in town when it comes to new patients (or customers, as we really do have to call them) – how would we react?

Having said that, as Physio First members we are likely to have a readymade community of user producers from within our 3,000-member base. Additionally, a special bond already exists between self-employed private physios and your user customers so, taking the metrics required to create a community, we have all the basic ingredients and, I would say, more so than my Accelerator Programme team mates.

To Conclude

Every company must find their own magic formula for community building and, make no mistake, finding one for The Physio Co-op will not be easy – it will require huge amounts of work, belief, and the discipline to stick to the framework needed to build a platform business, even one owned by its user producers.

Fortunately, many Physio First members have displayed those qualities in spades. You only have to look at the volunteer post holders who step up year on year to run and support Physio First, as well as the nearly 1,000 contributors to our private trusted LinkedIn Forum who help and support each other on a daily basis. So, at this point in our history, the creation of a platform cooperative feels within our grasp.

But more about that later!


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